For anyone who came away from Google I/O believing Google (GOOG:NASDAQ) was entering the hardware computer business with some stripped-down notebooks, they were mistaken.
Certainly, Google officials touted Samsung and Acer notebooks based on the company's Chrome Operating System for running applications strictly in the cloud, hosted on Google's servers.
The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook will sport a 12.1-inch screen and will cost $429 for WiFi-only; the WiFi+3G model will run $499. Acer's 11.6-inch model Chromebook will have fewer bells and whistles and will run $349. The first Chromebooks will be available June 15 online from Best Buy and Amazon.com.
Most analysts barely blinked at the value proposition the company touted: Web OS based machines that boot in 8 seconds and only enough local storage for caching.
"I think they're doomed," IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell told eWEEK. "They are essentially consumer wireless thin clients that depend completely on a constant internet connection and web-based apps. While we have some of that, it's far, far, far from ubiquitous. As a point of reference, the entire worldwide market for wireless thin clients last year was around 50,000 units."
Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, who looks at the potential impact of computing devices from the consumers' standpoint, noted that the appeal of Chromebooks at current price points is limited, partially because the devices themselves will prove limiting for users.
"On the reference design I tested [the CR-48, which though similar in hardware though not as full-featured as the models shipping from Samsung and Acer], you can't use any local software, install drivers to printers, download files from USB flash drives..." Epps told eWEEK.
This holds true for the current Samsung and Acer machines, which use only a minimal amount of flash storage for local caching. These machines also leverage Google Cloud Print, the Web-based printing service many have found great when it works and useless when it doesn't.
Those who have a Canon Powershot or some other digital camera and want to port their photos from those cameras to a Chromebook won't be able to. How about using a desktop sharing application, such as Citrix GoToMeeting? Sorry, a Chromebook isn't the right machine for you.
Rajen Sheth, group product manager for Chrome OS for business, said Google hoped to convey that the Chrome OS value proposition is the cloud, not the elegant yet minimalistic shells made by leading computer makers.
"Where this is going to be successful, is places where people are moving to their Web as their primary means of interacting with applications," Sheth told eWEEK. "More and more applications that used to be only on the desktop are being moved to the browser."
One of those places where Chromebooks thrive is at reseller Appirio, where the majority of their computing operations are run in the cloud. The company uses Google Apps for collaboration, Salesforce.com for customer relationship management and WorkDay for human resource management, CTO Glenn Weinstein told eWEEK.
Appirio is a pilot partner for Google's Cr-48 Chromebook, with 250 U.S. employees using the machines since January. With the exception of desktop sharing apps, such as Citrix GotoMeeting, Appirio workers used Chromebooks for just about every work function that involves a computer, including Google Docs, Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Chat.
Weinstein added that Appirio, one of Google's top reseller partners, would love to not only use Samsung and Acer Chromebooks in house, but to begin selling them to partners.
"The cost of ownership of Chromebook is an order of magnitude below the cost of a laptop. We would love to accrue that savings internally and pass them on to our customers," Weinstein said.
Chromebooks, Weinstein explained, simplify the IT experience, saving IT managers the trouble of software distribution, antivirus patrols, laptop ghosting and hardware imaging, among other tasks.